Why should we protect animals in disasters and what can the EU do?

In the rubble of Bucha, Ukraine, a small grey and brown dog with a white face marking is pictured standing next to a vase of purple flowers and large green leaves. © FOUR PAWS | Maksym Havrylov

© FOUR PAWS | Maksym Havrylov Valentyna Vozna, Ukraine TaskForce Coordinator, Eurogroup for Animals Russia’s war in Ukraine brought unprecedented consequences not only to the people of Ukraine and food security systems in Europe and worldwide, but also to animals and the environment. Once the war hit the European continent, a lot of actors were willing to help animals and had the resources at their disposal, but their actions were limited mainly because of the lack of information about the current needs of animals in Ukraine, logistical issues and a lack of partners on the ground. This often resulted in fragmented and uncoordinated aid provision and rescue efforts with duplicated efforts, while hampering aid in reaching those most in need (1). Acknowledging the efforts of the EU and its Member States to help Ukrainian animals, Russia’s war showcased EU’s lack of preparedness to protect animals during a disaster. Various actions could be implemented by the EU to better address the plight of animals during disasters. The immediate solution lies in the legal inclusion of animals in EU disaster law with the aim of involving animal welfare actors in the development of disaster management plans and in a coordinated disaster response mechanism in the EU. In our opinion, the lack of consideration of animals in an official disaster response mechanism substantially undermines any capacity to provide timely and effective aid to animals. The imperative of protecting animals in disasters is broad and encompasses both animals and humans for several reasons. First, the human-animal bond is a major factor affecting animal owners in disasters (2). People may refuse to evacuate because they do not want to abandon their animals. As a result, public safety may be compromised due to risky human behaviour during evacuation. Second, people’s mental health can be affected by the additional stress provoked by separation from their companion animals. Animals provide emotional support to people regardless of their age during and after disasters (3). This issue becomes especially acute when refugees escape the disaster with their companion animals just to find out that their animals are not allowed in refugee camps or social housing in a safer place. Indeed, unnecessary exposure of people to animals should be avoided, but it is equally important not to cause more pain to already traumatised people. Third, there are economic reasons for protecting animals in disasters. For example, livestock animals play an essential role in the recovery capabilities of the region. Rescuing them is vital to the resilience of the local communities after a disaster and is also cost-effective. Namely, a loss of livestock for a farmer means loss of food security, lost wages of workers and reduced productivity among workers due to psychological trauma (4). Moreover, disasters may lead to increasing populations of free-roaming animals due to abandonment and the inability to evacuate them, possibly posing a public health risk of rabies and other zoonoses. Furthermore, once a disaster has ended animals left without adequate food and water resources also may experience